by Chris Hunt
The Hopewell girls basketball team lost its second game in two weeks to high-powered Mallard Creek, a 60-52 road defeat on Jan. 7.
The Titans also fell to the Mavericks in the Bojangles’ Shootout on Dec. 29, 51-46, in a game that didn’t impact the teams’ I-MECK 4A conference records. But last week’s loss hurt a little more. Not only did it count as a loss in the conference race, it also will test the Titans’ mentally in the defense of their 2009-10 conference title.
Hopewell coach Gary Richmond said his team has the potential to repeat as conference champion, but first, it has to solve the riddle that is Mallard Creek. Hopewell (11-2, 4-1 in conference) has now lost three consecutive games to the Mavericks over the past two seasons.
In their December meeting, an aggressive Maverick defense flustered the Titans’ backcourt and built a lead too large for Hopewell to overcome. In the second game this season, Hopewell’s guards managed the Maverick press and even held a seven-point lead at the half, but Mallard Creek rallied to tie the game in the third quarter and won it down the stretch at the free-throw line. Hopewell went 6-for-18 from the charity stripe in the final period, letting the game slip away. Mallard Creek, on the other hand, made 26 free throws in the game.
“The game plan in practice was, ‘Let’s get them into foul trouble and get to the free throw line,’” said Richmond. “But we do all that work, and then we don’t make the free throws. Not only did we miss free throws, it was free throws from our better players. The best players are whom you want on the line. Your best players have to carry you through games like this. It didn’t happen.”
Even more disturbing for Richmond was the fact that the Mavericks (12-3, 4-1) won without starting center Somalia McKenny (sick) and their leading scorer, point guard Amber Neely (foul trouble).
With Jan. 11 off, the Titans have a chance to regroup before a home rivalry game against North Meck on Friday, Jan. 14. The Titans still have an excellent opportunity to win the I-MECK 4A. Hopewell is still tied with Mallard Creek at the top of the standings with one league loss each – Mallard Creek lost to Lake Norman on Dec. 14. Hopewell could win the title if it sweeps the remaining games on its schedule, including a rematch against the Mavericks on Feb. 4.
North Meck ready for showdown against Mooresville.
North Meck kept itself in contention for one of the I-MECK 4A’s five automatic bids for the state playoffs with a 51-47 victory over Vance on Jan. 7. The victory improved North Meck to 10-5, 2-3 in the league, that would have set up a pretty big game against fifth-place Mooresville (3-2 in the I-MECK) on Jan. 10. A loss would’ve knocked the Vikings two games behind the top five teams in the standings, but that game will have to wait as it was postponed because of inclement weather.
The Vikings should be prepared for that pivotal game against the Blue Devils. North Meck coach Jennifer Baker said her team faced Mooresville during the holidays in the East Lincoln Winter Jam in nearby Denver. She added that the Vikings won that game thanks to their defense and some free throw shooting from sophomore guard Kelly Beasley.
“We played quality defense in that tournament,” said Baker. “We are still not giving up a lot of points. We have some opportunity for some (young) people to really step up like Jasmine Cash, who has performed defensively, offensively and rebounding wise. So has Kelly Beasley, who has closed out the last two Christmas tournament games for us. She iced the first Mooresville game for us. She got fouled and made her free throws, and she got fouled again and made her free throws.”